Archive for the ‘Cocktails and Other Beverages’ Category

Drink, Eat, and Be Very Merry Indeed

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016


I am one of the lucky food writers who have been invited to what is called the Abrams Dinner Party. Abrams Publishing (long known for art books and more recently for colorful cookbooks) will be sending us books to review throughout the year.

I’m already behind on posting reviews (I’m behind on EVERYTHING during this nutty season of the year) so I’m giving you three at once.

Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History by Steven Grasse is charming—so much so that although I THOUGHT I was going to set it aside as a prize for my upcoming Hawley Gentlemen’s Pie & Tart Extravaganza, I have decided that it needs to stay in my house so I can use it.

(In addition to enjoying the text I loved the old-fashioned typeface and the whimsical illustrations by the Reverend Michael Alan.)

Grasse is a distiller himself and the creator of such successful historically oriented brands as Narragansett Beer and Hendrick’s Gin. In his book he returns to colonial days, reminding the reader that since the water was unsafe to drink early white Americans turned to ale and other spirits to quench their thirst.

He provides recipes and history for a variety of concoctions, including a variety of beers and wines (cock ale or quince wine, anyone?), ciders, and cocktails. I can now make beverages I had only previously encountered in historical novels, including syllabub, ratafia, and milk punch. (Okay, I may skip the milk punch.)

Look for me to concoct such drinks as cranberry shrub and peach cobbler (yes, it’s a cocktail as well as a dessert) on TV in the months to come.


In The 24-Hour Wine Expert Jancis Robinson offers a primer for people like me, who either don’t drink wine or don’t know much about it. She helps with selecting wines (telling the reader how to move from one wine s/he likes to another s/he will PROBABLY like), serving them, and storing them.

I have apparently stored much of the wine in my house a little too long.

She also runs through the products of major wine-producing areas and tells the reader how to find a bargain. All in all, this is a handy little book.

Butter & Scotch shares recipes from a combination bar and bakery in Brooklyn of the same name. The bar’s founders, Allison Kave and Keavy Landreth, share their “baking and boozing philosophy,” which is all about having fun while eating and drinking very well. Some of their recipes even combine butter and scotch with delicious-sounding results. All of their recipes are imaginative.

I wanted to test at least one recipe from this book. I was tempted to try the very rich peanut-butter pie but decided to give my guests the slightly less caloric Mama T’s Tuna Quiche.

Basically a rearranged tuna melt in a pie shell (I didn’t say it was calorie free!), the quiche was very popular with a group from my small hometown at a recent pot luck. I think another time I would grate the cheese instead of cubing it, to make it flow through the pie, but I’ll definitely try it again!


Mama T’s Tuna Quiche

from Butter & Scotch, used with permission


1 single pie crust
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons flour
6 ounces Swiss cheese, cubed
1 (5-ounce) can tuna packed in water, drained
1/3 cup sliced Kalamata olives
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 pinch cayenne pepper


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Fit the crust into a pie pan. (The original recipe uses an 8-inch springform pan, which would be great, but I don’t have one so I used a 9-inch pie pan.) Refrigerate until ready to fill.

In a large bowl beat together the mayonnaise, milk, eggs, and flour. Add the cheese, tuna, olives, scallions, mustard, and cayenne, and stir well. Pour all of the ingredients into the crust, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the center has set. (The original recipe says 20 to 25 minutes, and if one has the springform that may work, but in my pie pan it took longer.)

Allow the quiche to cool for at least 20 minutes, then serve it warm or at room temperature. Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for up to 1 week and warmed in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Serves 6 (more at a pot-luck event!).


The Day of the Dead

Friday, October 24th, 2014


My friends Donna and Dian in California introduced me to the Day of the Dead, la Dia de los Muertos, which is fast becoming one of my favorite holidays.

I gather that there are actually TWO days of the dead. On November 1, the spirits of dead children return to earth to join us. On November 2, adults follow.

Dian and Donna have wonderful, elaborate ofrendas, shrines dedicated to the memory of people they have lost. The ofrendas feature flowers, candles, trinkets, foods the people loved, skulls made of sugar, and even chocolate skulls.

I am only just starting to celebrate this holiday so my ofrenda is quite small—but I had fun putting it together. I brought it along to my most recent appearance on the television program Mass Appeal. I made Mexican hot chocolate in honor of the day and of my father (who LOVED chocolate).

The hot chocolate recipe, and the chocolate with which I made it, came from Taza Chocolate. I have tried making the hot chocolate with both vanilla-flavored chocolate (plus a little cinnamon) and the guajillo chile chocolate we used on the TV show. The chile chocolate might be a bit strong for kids, but it has a nice kick. And either frothy chocolate drink is fluffy and creamy.

Next year, I hope to give you a recipe for the traditional bread for the Day of the Dead, which you can see in the photograph of my ofrenda. I’m still working on the right formula!

Meanwhile, Happy Day of the Dead—and of course Happy Halloween. If you watch the video at the bottom of this post, you’ll see us make pumpkin bread for Halloween as well as the hot chocolate.


Mexican Hot Chocolate


1 2.7-ounce package (2 discs) Mexican chocolate
2 cups milk
1 pinch salt


Roughly chop or grate the chocolate. Set it aside.

Heat the milk over medium heat until it ALMOST starts to simmer. Remove the milk from the heat, and toss in the salt.

Slow add the chocolate, stirring until it dissolves.

Return the mixture to the stove and warm it up again over low heat. While it is heating, use a whisk, a frother, or an immersion blender to froth it.

Serves 2.


Florette’s Rhubarb Tea

Thursday, May 29th, 2014


This recipe appears in my Pudding Hollow Cookbook. (If you don’t have the book, feel free to order it!)

I had forgotten about the tea until last week when I was pondering what to prepare on my next segment on the show Mass Appeal. It was a hit with friends when I made it a few days ago—and it was a hit yesterday when I made it on the show. (See video below.) It is lovely to look at and refreshing to drink.

In case you skip over the recipe and go straight to the video, be aware that I made rhubarb crumble first! And … you should know that I forgot to mention on the air that one should cover the raw rhubarb with water BEFORE cooking it for the tea; otherwise the rhubarb will burn long before it simmers! (One does get a little carried away on live TV, but one is learning.)

The recipe originally came from my neighbor Florette, who is mentioned in the video. I have written here before about Florette. She was glamorous, eccentric, and occasionally maddening. She taught me a lot about rhubarb and a lot about life, and I’m grateful for those lessons.

The Tea


for the rhubarb juice:

2 pounds rhubarb stalks chopped (about 6 cups)
3 cups water
1 pinch salt

for the sugar syrup:
2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar

for assembly:
1 quart strong black tea


In a stainless steel or enamel saucepan, cook the rhubarb in water, partially covered, over moderately low heat for 10 to 12 minutes or until tender. Stir gently occasionally to keep from boiling. Cool slightly. Drain the rhubarb in a sieve placed over a bowl and discard the pulp, reserving the liquid. Add the salt.

In another saucepan, combine the ingredients for the sugar syrup. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring and brushing the sugar crystals from the sides of the pan until the sugar is dissolved. Cook the syrup for 5 minutes, undisturbed, over moderate heat and let it cool.

To make rhubarb tea, combine 2 parts black tea, 1 part rhubarb juice, and 1 part sugar syrup. (You may change these proportions slightly according to your taste.) Serve in a tall glass over ice. As indicated, 4 cups tea, 2 cups rhubarb juice, and 2 cups sugar syrup make 2 quarts of rhubarb tea.

Store any leftover juice or syrup in the refrigerator. If you need a double amount of sugar syrup, make 2 separate batches.

And now the video:

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If you’d like to see the quick asparagus dish I made yesterday before the rhubarb (one always eats one’s vegetables BEFORE dessert), here’s that video as well:

[youtube width=”560″ height=”315″][/youtube]

For the Love of Film (Noir): On the Road to Key Largo

Friday, February 18th, 2011

This post contributes to the rich film-noir blogathon currently hosted by Ferdy on Films and the Self-Styled Siren. 

Funds donated by clicking on the image below will go to the Film Noir Foundation. Donors are eligible for prizes, but the real prize is getting to help restore the 1950 film The Sound of Fury—and getting to read all the great posts the blogathon is attracting!

When as a child I first visited Paris with my godmother I was astonished to find that many French people were aware of the relatively obscure place in which she lived, Key Largo, Florida.
The reason for this familiarity was not a knowledge of U.S. geography but a knowledge of American film history. 

As early fans of classic directors like John Huston and as countrymen of the critics who invented the term “film noir,” the French knew and loved Huston’s 1948 noir gangster movie set on, partly shot on, and named after my godmother’s home Key.

Key Largo always merits a visit. It grips today’s viewers yet remains a true product of its time.
A melodrama of postwar malaise, the film takes place in and around the Largo Hotel, a resort owned by James Temple (Lionel Barrymore) and his widowed daughter-in-law Nora (Lauren Bacall).
Humphrey Bogart plays Frank McCloud, a footloose former soldier who steps off a bus on Route 1 and becomes involved against his will in the hotelkeepers’ conflict with underworld kingpin Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) and his henchmen.
In the course of an hour and 41 minutes, the disillusioned McCloud learns to commit himself to the cause of right—and to the cause of Nora Temple. He also braves a hurricane that changes everyone’s plans.
The movie is a goldmine for social historians. It can be viewed as a metaphor for Americans on the brink of the Cold War, learning like McCloud to become involved in a new fight. 

The hero’s decision at the film’s finish to end his rootless existence and settle down with the Temples also mirrors our culture’s postwar emphasis on the importance of home as haven.

Key Largo is more than just a story for its time, however. It is a lush, well paced picture with glorious black-and-white photography by Karl Freund.
It is also a primer in American film acting, featuring a range of diverse yet complementary styles.
On one end of its spectrum are the minimalist Bogart and Bacall, whose faces and voices come across as almost expressionless. 

Only a couple of gestures and a few mutual looks indicate that Frank and Nora have fallen in love in the course of the film, but those gestures and looks are so well choreographed that they speak volumes.

In contrast, Robinson delivers a powerful, cigar-chomping personification of evil, filling the screen with his body and voice.
Claire Trevor joins him in the ham portion of the thespian spectrum with a magnificently campy performance as his character’s alcoholic, over-the-hill moll. The role earned her an Academy Award. 

When she takes center stage to reprise her old nightclub routine in a creaky voice, Trevor’s character provides the film’s most moving moment.

Every time I think about Key Largo the film I long to visit Key Largo the place. I dream of flying down to Miami, then traveling—like Bogey’s character—on a Greyhound bus along Route 1.
I don’t exactly have the time or the funds to take this trip, however, so I settle for recreating my favorite tropical spot at home.
Since I’ll never look like Bacall or Claire Trevor my costume is a simple lei. Nevertheless, I do work hard to make food that features the Keys’ signature food, key-lime juice. And of course I watch Key Largo.
If you’d like to have your own Key Largo party, don’t make do with the juice of ordinary limes; it hasn’t got the subtle, rich flavor of the key lime.
Many supermarkets carry Nellie & Joe’s key-lime juice. You may also order juice by mail from Floribbean; this company also sells such goodies as key-lime salsa, jelly, and savory oil.
Or call my favorite key-lime store, the Key Lime Tree.
This emporium, located (where else?) on Key Largo not far from my godmother’s home, offers a plethora of key-lime products, from beverages to fudge to fabulous soap, plus OF COURSE key-lime juice. 

Last time I checked in, its owners would even ship out a small key-lime tree to help you add some scenery to your Key Largo bash.

Settle yourself under the tree’s thorny branches; sip a key-lime beverage; and prepare to spend an evening with Bogart, Bacall, and company.
I have already featured several key-lime recipes on this blog. These include key-lime chicken; tropical fruit salsa; key lime-white chocolate chip cookies; and everybody’s favorite, key-lime pie.
I thought readers might like a cocktail to accompany a viewing of Key Largo, however. What could be more appropriate for this stormy film than a hurricane?
This tropical drink packs quite a wallop. Claire Trevor’s Gaye Dawn (a PERFECT Florida Keys name!), who drinks her way through the movie, would appreciate it, although she doesn’t at all appreciate the natural disaster from which it derives its name. 

If you cannot find passion-fruit syrup in your local grocery or liquor store, it may be found online at Amazon and other sites. Some bartenders take a shortcut and substitute 1/2 cup of Hawaiian Punch. This doesn’t strike me as appropriate for a celebration of film noir, however.

Key Largo Hurricane
1 ounce light rum
1 ounce dark rum
1 tablespoon passion-fruit syrup
1 tablespoon key-lime juice (more or less to taste)

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass. Serves 1.

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A Busy Weekend

Friday, August 20th, 2010


I’m sure ALL of my readers have these events on their calendars—but here’s a little reminder just in case!
First, tomorrow night (Saturday, August 21), Alice Parker and I will trip the light fantastic at the Green Emporium in Colrain, Massachusetts. Friends and fans should plan to come eat pizza, listen with rapture, and of course sing along.
I am actually still learning the music for our centennial tribute to Frank Loesser. It’s been a hectic month! I try to tell myself this is a good thing. I wouldn’t want to lose my spontaneity, now would I? 

The program starts at 7:30 pm. Would-be listeners are encouraged to come a bit early as the restaurant doesn’t take reservations.

Second, Sunday is the first day of the week-long Blogathon proudly hosted by me (with help from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and Mass Farmers Markets).
Loving Local: Celebrating the Flavors of Massachusetts coincides with Massachusetts Farmers’ Market week and raises money for Mass Farmers Markets, a non-profit charity that supports farmers markets throughout the Bay State. 

As I type this, we have about 70 blogs scheduled to participate. If you’d like to join in the virtual feast–it’s calorie free!–please see the instructions here. (Don’t you love our wonderful poster/logo, designed by the talented Leon Peters?)


Since things are a bit busy today’s recipe is for … water. I got this refreshing idea from Michael Collins, the chef at the Green Emporium. I have put lemon in water for years, but the mint is not only pretty but tasty.

How to Make (Actually, Serve) Water
1 pitcher water (preferably delicious New England well water)
1 lemon, thinly sliced and seeded
a handful of mint sprigs
lots of ice

Combine the ingredients and allow them to mellow a bit together before serving. Serves 2 to 8, depending on degree of thirst and size of pitcher.